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    February 2, 2001 Friday ONE-THREE EDITION


    LENGTH: 806 words




    Chatting with Vice President Dick Cheney at a prayer breakfast Thursday, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina pledged to find common ground with the new administration.

    If that happens, it will have to wait until next week.

    Hours after his pledge, Democrat Edwards walked onto the Senate floor and cast a vote against President Bush's choice for attorney general, calling former Sen. John Ashcroft a "polarizing and divisive figure."

    It was Edwards' second vote against a Bush nominee in a week, coming three days after he opposed Interior Secretary Gale Norton, saying she would be bad for the environment.

    "I'm doing what I think is right after a lot of soul-searching," said Edwards, who was elected North Carolina's junior senator in 1998.

    Edwards joined 41 fellow Democrats in opposing Ashcroft, including Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina. He was one of 24 Senate Democrats to oppose Norton.

    But as a relatively new senator from a state that overwhelmingly supported Bush, Edwards is taking stands that are giving Republicans with an eye on retaking his seat in 2004 a chance to say he does not represent his constituents.

    What's more, as one of a handful of senators said to be mulling bids for the White House, every vote Edwards casts and every speech he utters will echo for years.

    "I was certainly hoping that John Edwards would not fall in line and adopt the position of (Massachusetts Democratic Sen.) Ted Kennedy," said U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Farmville Republican. "North Carolina is not a liberal state."

    GOP operatives say they will scrutinize Edwards' every move and speak out with more regularity when they think his votes do not reflect the political bent of the Tar Heel state.

    Before the vote, both Jones and U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger, a Hickory Republican, sent Edwards letters urging him to vote for Ashcroft.

    "Sen. Edwards, during your 1998 Senate campaign, you promised that if elected, you would be the 'people's senator' with no partisan agenda," wrote Ballenger in a letter dated Tuesday. "The people of North Carolina responded overwhelmingly to President Bush's candidacy and platform by giving him 56 percent of the vote, 13 percent more than Vice President Gore. In my opinion, this is a clear indication that a sizable majority of North Carolinians endorse President Bush's judgment and his plans for the future."

    Sen. Jesse Helms, the N.C. Republican, voted for all of Bush's nominees.

    Edwards points out that, besides Ashcroft and Norton, he has supported all of the president's choices.

    But on Thursday he defended his vote on Ashcroft, saying he did not base his votes entirely on public opinion.

    "It matters a great deal to me what the people I represent think and say," he said. "Obviously I always want to know what they say. I don't keep tallies, I don't do polls. I do what I think is right."

    In a brief speech on the Senate floor, Edwards, a lawyer, referred to Ashcroft's decision to block confirmation of a black judge to the federal bench. Edwards has been engaged in a similar fight, having had his recommendation of an African American judge from North Carolina blocked by Helms.

    "At a time that our country desperately needs a unifier, the president has nominated a man to be the chief law enforcement officer of the country, the people's lawyer, who has a long record of divisive, inflammatory rhetoric," Edwards said.

    Later, in a question-and-answer session with North Carolinians, Edwards added that "there's a huge segment of the population of this country who don't feel (Ashcroft) represents them."

    Even if Republicans begin an informal campaign to define Edwards as out of step with the state, there is no guarantee they will have success. A successful trial lawyer, Edwards is a gifted communicator who can explain his record in terms that are easy to understand.

    U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, doubts there will be any political fallout for Edwards.

    "When a president sends forward nominations that raise these kinds of questions (such as Ashcroft and Norton), it is a senator's duty to look at them and vote against them if he sees fit," said Price. "I would think most people would appreciate that, even if they disagree with his decision."

    Edwards, meanwhile, will maintain his high profile next week, but in a more bipartisan manner. He said Thursday he is "close, very close" to reaching a deal with Sen. John McCain, the maverick Arizona Republican, on a patients' bill of rights.

    Edwards and McCain, who have been negotiating for months, could appear together at a news conference as early as Monday. Edwards, who voted against the GOP plan last year, said the new legislation would be acceptable to both parties because it would include an independent appeals panel for patients denied coverage by an HMO.

    GRAPHIC: Photos-2;
    1. Photo by Stephen Crowley, New York Times: Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., listens as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., (left) speaks Thursday about Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft's Senate confirmation. 2. Edwards

    LOAD-DATE: October 31, 2001  
       Document 6 of 11  

    "What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy." -Pedro Martinez

    by BooMan23 on Tue Oct 05, 2004 at 09:26:31 PM PDT

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